'Green' Issues Become Force in Driving US Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

FOR decades, the United States has defined national security threats in terms of nuclear arsenals, arms balances, and hostile alliances.

But since the end of the cold war, policymakers have become increasingly attentive to "natural" occurrences, such as poverty and overpopulation, that are often the underlying causes of the political and social disorder that can implicate US interests abroad.

The growing importance of environmental concerns in foreign-policy making will be underscored when Secretary of State Warren Christopher gives what is being billed as a major speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., tomorrow. Mr. Christopher is expected to highlight the need to factor in famine, water shortages, greenhouse gasses, and other concerns when conducting foreign diplomacy. The address coincides with the implementation of a recent Christopher directive to State Department officials to pay closer heed to environmental issues. "I expect regional bureaus to identify how environment, population, and resource issues affect key US interests," Christopher instructed top department officials in an internal memo in February. "There's a growing appreciation of how environmental factors interact with our diplomacy," elaborates a senior department official. "The purpose of the initiative is to consolidate the lessons we've learned over the past three years and to bring them more fully to public attention." One such lesson was learned in Haiti, where the overthrow of a democratically elected president and the subsequent exodus of refugees to the US combined to create a major foreign-policy problem for Presidents Bush and Clinton. Many experts believe the real source of the country's troubles lies with the widespread deforestation, soil erosion, and water shortages that have left tens of thousands of Haitians without a livelihood. "There's a direct link between this and why the government was overthrown and why 50,000 migrants left Haiti in 1994," says the State Department source. "You can't say deforestation alone created the political problems in Haiti but it contributed to poverty and thus to an unstable situation," adds the senior official. "There's no question those factors will make the challenge of political and economic reconstruction in Haiti much more difficult." Emerging 'green' issues Other problems department officials are worried about: food shortages resulting from population growth and disappearing cropland; scarce water resources leading to conflict within or between states; overcrowded cities swelled by migrants from environmentally wasted rural areas; and political unrest caused by the inability of poor nations to keep up with the demands of populations with doubling times of 25 years or less. …